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Spreading Disinformation The BJP Way: Tweet, Cite, Delete

There are forms of political skullduggery, which are imperative know-how in Politics 101. Young starry-eyed neophytes in politics are acquainted with the what, when, and hows of discreetly carrying out a political equivalent of a strike. And like any strike, these manoeuvres have to incorporate new styles and steps from their more known international counterparts. Disinformation is the latest.

The disinformation phenomenon came to the fore of news desks in late 2016, as the world got over the initial shock of a Trump Presidency (the shock to news organisations was more of a scabbed wound as their predictions fell to the floor) and news broke of an obscure Russian disinformation campaign. Disinformation, as defined by a former KGB operative, is the deliberate distortion of information to leak to a potential target sample done by establishments, newspapers, and even social media.

If one were to disintegrate the components of a typical disinformation news piece they would be; eye-catching, false, and a total yet cleverly designed lie. If this article were to be another massive disinformation campaign by yours truly, you wouldn’t be able to identify it.

Representational image.

Disinformation is in fact, more local in its inception. In the 1980s, inside the pages of a small Indian publication called The Patriot was an article warning India of an AIDS epidemic. The Epidemic was the perfect conjured story with the seasonings as small, virtually unnoticeable, and almost believable. It was repeated in a prominent Russian magazine after years, and for the final guise of acceptability, they printed the source in bold words; The Patriot.

For additional verifiability, they even got a scientist to validate it, and hence the first discovered disinformation campaign was unearthed. The AIDS story was twisted and turned and made viral when it finally ended up in its intended recipients’ hands when it made primetime news in the States of how AIDS leaked from an American laboratory.

Now, the Indian Government seems to be following the footsteps of its ally and embarking upon a campaign of its own vis a vis the BJP’s newfound political toy, social media.

The BJP IT cell claims to be an official wing of the BJP; however, it is what it does.

The brainchild of Prodyut Bora, the IT cell has worked as the sneaky underhand of its master. It’s duty? Cashing in on the disinformation phenomenon.

The IT cell under Bora worked to increase daily viewership of its page and even helped organise the veteran BJP leader, LK Advani’s rallies, massively increasing their popularity. The then Bora headed organisation still can be said to be a mere shadow of what it is today.

A particular trick that struck me was that of its reliance on the “once the damage is done” way, it posts an inanely made up tweet, cites its regional sources and, then deletes it.

The tweets are often communal and ensure that the most oblivious and uneducated of the BJPs voters remain hooked. Most of the tweets come from Amit Malviya, head of the IT cell (and with 555K followers). What follows is the foundation of the BJPs ideological pervasiveness. Senior BJP leaders cite Malviya’s tweets and then a trickle-down effect, BJP style occurs, where thousands of bhakts and their functionaries use the tweets and create a factoid bubble for the BJP voter base. This method’s simplicity lies in its obviousness and yet its results render it diabolically cunning.

The Delhi Farmer Protests of 2020 against the 3 new Farm laws passed in Parliament are unlike any other protest, for they are the product of collective unrest by farmers across the country. The farmers are adamant, well organised, and well-stocked to continue the protest. The NDA Government has mostly given empty assurances and held inconclusive talks.

The Prime Minister even gave a televised speech to assumedly assure the farmers, in his usual format of speechmaking which involves a weird form of beating around the bush and failing to lay a clear path ahead all while deriding the Opposition, delivered in a deep baritone of self-proclaimed magnanimity, reminiscent of Donald Trump.

Representational image.

What we fail to realize is that the BJP has been hard at work all along. With such a protest of such scale, the IT cell saw it as a ripe target for launching an all-out attack on these protests, they left no stone or allegation unturned; from making baseless claims about their origins to doubting the food served in the protest. The IT cell has done it all, and there lies the underhand contribution of the BJP.

When reports surfaced of a farmer being hit by police batons, it seemed that Malviya was waiting at the wings as he hurriedly tweeted a video that seemed to show the opposite. That tweet was later flagged as manipulated media by Twitter but the BJP had achieved what it set out to achieve, the damage had again been done.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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